It’s spring in Colona. The door is open, and I’m listening to the meadowlarks’ liquid burble.
There is also the garbage truck grinding away up the road. But still, it’s a quiet valley.
That was one of its chief attractions when we bought our lot in the summer of 1997. On still afternoons, you could sit up on our hill and hear the little Hernandez girls playing half a mile away across the fields. Sometimes you might overhear a conversation between ranch hands even farther away – not the words really but the low sine wave of their back-and-forth sentences. Coyotes singing to one another up and down Scotty’s Draw sounded as if they were right here on our driveway.
Enchanted by this magic sound bowl, we set about deciding where the house should go, until one day a different noise floated up to our ears. Unintelligible at first, it morphed into a crooning, self-satisfied AM radio rant, and then very clearly into the voice of the chief Dittohead himself, Rush Limbaugh.
The first time, we tried to laugh it off. The second and third times we heard him, we panicked. It was coming from somewhere out on the valley floor. But where? There were only a handful of houses back then. Which one was the culprit? Which of our (obviously) conservative neighbors had the volume turned up to eleven? And Oh-My-God what had we gotten ourselves into?
You can turn your back on the view, but you can’t hide from sound. When we drove out from Ridgway to sit under the open sky, there was Rush, “America’s Truth Detector,” screaming about Hillary Clinton and the rest of “the feminazis, whose most important thing in life is assuring that as many abortions as possible occur!”
Or we’d be sheltering beneath an ancient juniper, rolling fragrant berries around in our hands, and here would come an assault on “environmental wackos” out to destroy the real America. Except for the maggots and the plastic (?) banana, Rush had us pegged as “long-haired, dope-smoking, maggot-infested, good-time, rock ’n’ roll, plastic-banana FM types.” Our love affair with this gorgeous piece of high desert was threatened by an angry disembodied voice from out of the ether.
One day I decided to try and find the source of the vitriol. What would I say if I found it? Hi, I’m your new neighbor with a ponytail, and I was wondering… or, Golly, have you noticed how amazingly sound travels in this valley?
I drove slowly with the windows down, listening. There is a metal garage/shop part way out the road with three big bay doors, always open. Maybe, I thought, this building served as an amplifier somehow. And the owner, who never seemed to be about, just left the radio on inside the way some people leave the TV on all the time, for company.
But I couldn’t hear any Limbaugh as I crept by. Not there and not emanating from any of the other houses or vehicles or barns along the route. I even stopped the pickup and got out with the engine turned off to see if I could detect anything.
Nothing. Could it be the offending waves beamed in from somewhere far, far away, bouncing off the stratosphere and down to our innocent cosmic dish of a home site?
It didn’t do to despair about it. We pressed ahead with house plans, though when it came to choosing wall materials we opted for thick concrete and foam the better to insulate our ears. While we were indoors. But what about when we wanted to be enjoying the out-of-doors?
Bill Clinton’s impeachment came and went around the new year of 1999, as actual drawings for the house evolved. It was winter; the adobe hills were either snow covered or sticky with mud. We didn’t go out to the site much.
Come late April, we were ready to start digging the foundation. The weather was beautiful, like it is now. The cottonwoods down by the river showed tender new buds. The first purple wildflowers poked out of the ground. The work began and swept us along in its daily progress and camaraderie.
Then one afternoon in the stillness when everybody else had gone home I noticed an absence, the absence of bellicose bullshit. And I realized I hadn’t heard Limbaugh since we’d started working.
I never would figure out who had moved over the winter or what had changed. I just knew the acoustic invasion was over. It was spring. And we were free.